DETROIT -- The Tigers are still looking for a long-term agreement with 2013 American League Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer to avoid free agency next winter. For now, at least, they'll settle for avoiding arbitration next month.
The team took care of the bulk of its arbitration cases as Friday afternoon's deadline came and went for teams and players to exchange salary proposals. Detroit reached a one-year, $15.525 million deal with Scherzer, along with one-year deals with right-hander Rick Porcello, reliever Al Alburquerque and outfielders Andy Dirks and Austin Jackson.
The team announced the agreements Friday afternoon. Porcello will make $8.5 million. Alburquerque will make $837,500. Dirks and Jackson will make $1.625 million and $6 million, respectively.
The deals leave Alex Avila as Detroit's remaining arbitration case. The two sides exchanged salary proposals Friday afternoon, but can continue to talk up until a hearing, which would be scheduled sometime Feb. 1-21.
Avila, who avoided arbitration for $2.95 million last year at the filing date, filed for $5.35 million on Friday. The Tigers countered with a $3.75 million offer. If the case goes to a hearing, an arbitrator would have to select one offer or the other, with no middle ground in between.
Tigers president/general manager Dave Dombrowski confirmed in an email to MLB.com that they'll continue working on a longer-term contract with Scherzer, part of the core of starting pitching that has been a huge part of Detroit's success the past few years. The more immediate concern, however, was avoiding a potentially contentious arbitration hearing. The Tigers haven't gone to a hearing with a player since Dombrowski took over team president and GM duties in 2002.
Scherzer came close to breaking that streak last year, agreeing to terms on a $6.725 million salary for 2013 just before a scheduled hearing in February. He was expected to at least double that coming off a breakout year that included a Major League-best 21-3 record, 2.90 ERA, 214 1/3 innings pitched and 240 strikeouts.
The one-year, $14 million deal the Rays reached with former Cy Young winner David Price earlier this week provided a reference point. The end amount for Scherzer is believed to be the largest arbitration settlement for a player on a one-year deal in team history, passing Miguel Cabrera's $11.3 million settlement in 2008.
Both Scherzer and the Tigers have publicly expressed interest in a long-term contract. Now, they can spend the coming weeks as well as Spring Training seeing if there's any common ground for a deal to keep the 29-year-old right-hander off next winter's free-agent market. Scherzer's agent, Scott Boras, is known to prefer the open market as an avenue to find fair value for his pitching clients, but he has had exceptions in the past, notably Angels ace Jered Weaver.
Porcello was eligible for arbitration for a third time coming off arguably his best season since his rookie year in 2009. His sinkerballer style and the Tigers' defensive numbers made for a difficult comparison, but the two sides eventually found common ground for a substantial raise from his $5.1 million salary in '13.
Jackson, eligible for arbitration for the second time, signed for $3.5 million last year. The soon-to-be 27-year-old batted .272 with 30 doubles, seven triples, 12 home runs and 49 RBIs last season.
Though Dirks has less than three full seasons of Major League time, he came close enough to qualify for arbitration as a Super Two candidate. Though he hit just .256 with nine home runs, 37 RBIs and a .686 OPS last year, Dirks' first-time arbitration case would've been judged on his first three seasons, which include a .276 career average and .745 OPS.
Alburquerque, too, qualified as a Super Two candidate after posting a 10-4 record, 2.98 ERA and 155 strikeouts in 105 2/3 innings over the past three seasons.
The five agreements add just over $16 million to the Tigers' payroll. That number will approach $20 million with Avila, one way or the other. The numbers demonstrate the challenge the Tigers face trying to keep their roster largely intact after three consecutive AL Central titles. With the Tigers still looking to sign Scherzer and Cabrera long term, the bigger challenges could be yet to come.